‘The people of Shadow Cove have many secrets, many stories left to tell. The Draper are still waiting for you in those woods…’
Well, how deliciously creepy can you get? This is a thoroughly gripping debut novel from a writer that I will be watching very closely. As I’ve said in previous posts, I’m a bit of a sucker for dark and twisty stories so I just chomped through this in record time.
What the blurb says:
From the witch trials of centuries past, an evil awakens.
Inspired by Actual Events
Excerpt from the Journal of Clayton Stone – 1692
She was examined today without torture at Shadow Cove township on the charge of witchcraft. She said she was wholly innocent of the crime and has never in life renounced God. I watched as they brought her out. A poor, sickly thing, worn by her time behind the walls of her prison. Her bared feet and hands bound in leather, her clothing tattered to that of ruin. Despite such condition, her head was held high, her eyes meeting those of her accusers. She still refuses to provide her name so we remain unable to search baptismal records, nor has her family stepped forward to claim her as their own. We have no reason to believe she is anything but an orphaned child. I find myself unable to look at her directly in the moments preceding her trial. She is watching me though; with eyes of the deepest blue, she is watching me.
Thad McAlister, Rise of the Witch
When horror author Thad McAlister began his latest novel, a tale rooted in the witch trials of centuries past, the words flowed effortlessly. The story poured forth, filling page after page with the most frightening character ever to crawl from his imagination. It was his greatest work, one that would guarantee him a position among the legends of the craft.
But was it really fiction?
He inadvertently opened a door, one that would soon jeopardize the lives of his family.
She wants to come back.
At home, his wife struggles to keep their family alive. Secretly wondering if she caused it all…a deal she made long ago. A deal with the Forsaken.
The novel opens much like any other. We meet Rachael; wife and soon to be mother of two. In her words: ‘Their lives were perfect. A fairy tale…’ Well, as we know, fairy tales are very often dark and this is absolutely no exception. Pretty soon it’s hard to tell the difference between truth and fiction – as a result, you’ve just got to keep on reading.
The whole novel takes place over only four days and the story is told through a dual narrative. On the one hand, we see through the eyes of Rachael, and later, her writer husband Thad, but interspersed with this ‘modern’ story are excerpts as shown in the blurb from the 1692 journal of Clayton Stone. These two threads at first seem a world away from one another, but as the story progresses towards its conclusion, the strands move closer and closer together.
We learn very early on that Rachael is going to be put in an impossible situation – but we don’t know why: ‘”Three days,” the woman told her. “And the child is mine”’. But it’s not just her that’s haunted. Thad’s latest novel centres on Her and we soon realise that She is beyond dangerous: ‘For almost a decade, She had haunted his dreams with her scarred face, guttural voice and nails like long blades… This woman, this witch, had crept into my soul’. Even their young daughter Ashley is in danger and privately battling her own ‘demons’: ‘When a tiny hand reached out from behind Winnie the Pooh and pushed, she gasped’.
This novel is incredibly atmospheric and cinematic – it would make a fabulously creepy movie. I would love to see who was cast as Carmen Perez – the frighteningly cold but efficient housekeeper or the highly desirable, erotic but dangerous Christina. There is also one setting in particular that has stayed with me since I finished it. At one point, Thad wakes to find that: ‘Their entire lawn was dead. Every single strand of grass… Not only dead; their lawn was rotten’. Later, their dead garden is filled with Bougainvillea: ‘grown thick, their thorny branches lacing together into a thick impenetrable fabric. They rose at least six feet…’ I mean, how creepy can you get? Nature gone wild. Just incredible imagery and (to me at least) reminiscent of the rose garden in Beauty and the Beast.
So, ultimately, in a deadly game of cat and mouse, Thad must retrieve the legendary Rumina Box and release Her back into the world, or risk the lives of his family: ‘”Carved of oak and lined with lead, it forever holds the souls of the dead”’. And if you want to find out what happens, you’ll just have to read it yourself!
A truly gripping read. Highly recommended.
‘Clickity, click, click…’
Forsaken is available on kindle: Forsaken: Book One of the Shadow Cove Saga